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Student’s research promotes healthier, more profitable cattle

I

n a small town in rural Colombia, Diana Escamilla Sanchez’s grandfather raised coffee, oranges, plantains, bananas and corn. Her childhood on the farm made Escamilla aware of the difficulties small farmers faced in Colombia when marketing their goods.

“I felt there were a lot of things that could be improved, that I could find something that could help people like my family,” she recalled.

To assist, Escamilla pursued higher education. “In a developing country, access to quality education isn’t always easy,” she explained. “We are competing to get into a public university.”

On a national exam, Escamilla scored high enough to study agronomic engineering at the National University of Colombia. There, she won a scholarship for a three-month internship at the University of Arkansas.

The internship gave Escamilla a first-hand view of the opportunities offered by U.S. graduate study. While in a master’s program at Virginia Tech, she narrowed her focus to plant breeding.

Purdue’s phenotyping facilities, technology and range of courses factored into Escamilla’s decision to join the lab of Katy Martin Rainey, associate professor of plant breeding and genetics, in 2018. Escamilla said Rainey provided academic guidance and personal support that were important to her as a student far from home.

Escamilla’s research focused on improving soybean yield and composition. The work involved data analysis related to modifying soybean composition for animal feed to eliminate the indigestible parts that cause flatulence and discomfort in animals.

“We have a lot of information, images and genomic data. We can do a wide range of analysis,” said Escamilla.

In addition to her research, Escamilla represented agronomy in the graduate student government. “Being at Purdue – being around the diversity of people that we have here – is the best growing experience you can have personally,” she said.

After completing her degree, Escamilla plans to work in the United States to gain industry experience and keep pace with the rapidly changing data analysis field.

“You think you want to change the world, but sometimes you need to start with little changes.”

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